The fall of the Berlin Wall was triggered by an incompetent bureaucrat

Most people think the Berlin Wall came down because President Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” But a historian explains that it was actually the product of a mistake, by a bureaucrat who hadn’t paid attention at a meeting about loosening entry and exit restrictions between the two halves of Germany, and who mis-spoke. He was supposed to say that residents of East Germany could apply for travel visas, but instead, he told them they were free to cross the border immediately. And the rest is history:

When the wall started to fall on November 9th, it was a mistake. In the face of mass protests against the regime in 1989 and thousands of East Germans seeking refuge at West German embassies in Eastern Europe, East German leaders waived the old visa rules stating that citizens needed a pressing reason for travel, such as a funeral or wedding of a family member. The Communist Party official who announced these changes, Guenter Schabowski, missed most of the key meeting about the travel procedures and went unprepared to a news conference. In response to reporters’ questions about when the new law would take effect, he said, “Immediately, without delay.”

Schabowski left the impression that people could immediately cross the border, though he meant to say they could apply for visas in an orderly manner. Over the next several hours, thousands of East Berliners gathered at the checkpoints along the wall. Since the country’s leaders hadn’t intended to completely open the border, the supervisors at the crossing points had received no new orders. The chief officer on duty at the Bornholmer Street checkpoint, Harald Jaeger, kept calling his superiors for guidance on how to handle the growing mass of increasingly angry East Berliners expecting to be let through. Jaeger finally gave up around 11:30 p.m. and allowed people to pass through en masse. The East German regime never fully regained control.

via “Five Myths About the Berlin Wall

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